My apologies for not saying anything for a couple of days. I don’t even have a disease as an excuse this time. But I thought I’d better say something today, if only because changes is coming to our blog. Let me quote from ESCOFFIER in the thread:
Heather’s piece is based on a public lecture which I attended. I asked her the following question: I am noticing increasing chatter on the right that the humanities should be avoided by all serious students. The libertarian/utilitarian argument is that, especially in these economic times, and given the stratospherically high costs of college and the debt loads kids take on, you should only study something that will get you a job. In short, STEM. The slightly more sophisticated or high-minded argument is, See, Heather is right, these departments are all completely corrupt. They teach total garbage. Anyone who wastes timeor worse, moneyin/on them is a fool. Both of these arguments are true as far as they go.
But the net effect is, to the extent that “our side” heeds them and stays away from the humanities, we make them worse not better. Also, we impoverish our own souls. Is it really wise to just walk away from the West? My education was the best thing that ever happened to me. Easy for me to say, I didn’t have to pay for it. I never even made it into academia and I still feel it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
Here are some comments:
I don’t think the teaching of the humanities, as self-indulgent as it has become, is the main cause of the soaring costs of higher education. I admit that indifference to all that student debt is highly immoral, and I will even add that we learned at the recent MLA that leading professors of the humanities are very immoral on this front.
Completely corrupt is an exaggeration, if it is meant as the description of the way the huamities are taught today. When the study ACADEMICALLY ADRIFT says that there’s n0 “value added” to students through today’s higher education, it actually exempts the traditional liberal arts majors from that criticism.
The libertarian critics of the bubble on behalf of producitivty and efficiency are saying, in effect: Let’s walk away from the West; it’s been emptied of all content anyway by the evildoing of our political correct professors. It’s in the interest of those critics to exaggerate, just like it was in Marx’s interest to exaggerate in THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO. As much as Marx, they think the various “halos” of the West have been taken out by money. Those libertarian critics aren’t worried about souls; the humanities are pretty much hobbies that can be picked up on your own. They can be—although they don’t have to be—the bohemian part of bourgeois bohemian.
The STEM majors are not the problem, although it’s not really true that there’s a shortage of them. There may well be a shortage, in America, of really good ones.
The problem is the proliferation of all those techno-lite majors, such as marketing, beverage management, environmental studies, public relations, sports broadcasting, museum science, graphic arts, and so forth. They are allegedly VOCATIONAL majors. But they are actually majors in limiting one’s options in life—or narrowing one’s horizon.
One downside among many of the new imperative of universal access to higher education is low-level vocationalism. Nobody is pushing the thought that everyone has a soul that needs to be educated by Plato and the best forms of modern poety. For Escoffier, such an education is, as the commercial says, “priceless.” But surely he would add it’s not for everyone.
It’s in our interest to highlight how cheap quality education in the humanities can be. All you need is books, and the “reserve army” of nerds like Escoffier (if not excactly Escoffier) who would joyfully teach for subsistence.